Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ferran Adria

(Ferran and Myself at Harvard University's Lecture Series)
    Ferran has been one of my biggest culinary icons since I learned of his work back in early 2007. Getting to meet one of your icons is indescribable and when I met Ferran at Harvard University's Lecture Series all I remember is almost being at a loss for words and having this almost out of body experience. The man single handedly molded and shaped an entire two decades of culinary history, during which he created multiple new culinary techniques, such as foams and frozen powders, attained a 3 Michelin star rating,  and received the title of best restaurant in the world for a record setting 5 times at his restaurant el bulli in Catalan, Spain. Many have referred to Ferran as being the best chef in the world and with his following and reputation I could only agree. The man is a culinary genius and seeing his creations provokes a sense of intrigue and whimsy. His creations have been photographed and cataloged into his tomes of el bulli books, which are grouped into certain years that depict his current representation of cuisine. Ferran is part Chef, part Scientist, and part Artist....all of which correlate back to the title of this blog. The field of Culinary Arts should be viewed through this scope because all of cooking is based on scientific reactions and it's plating should always be aesthetically appealing to the diner, considering we eat with our eyes first.

  Ferran describes his approach to food as either deconstructivist cuisine or technoemotional cuisine. The reason he describes it as deconstructivist cuisine is because he is taking many classical preparations and stripping them down to their ingredients and then he puts them back together. Sometimes he even takes something from nature like the beach, a campfire, or a cloud and utilizes food and scientific/culinary techniques to represent the thought. Ferran's other cuisine description, technoemotional, was developed as a way to describe how the diner would be experiencing the food. They would be getting many different flavors, smells and textures presented to them in ways that would tantalize each one of their senses and provoke a certain emotional response with each bite all done from a technical perspective.

When el bulli closed it''s doors in 2010 after a very dominate run in the culinary field Ferran sought to impact future generations of chefs. They have since transformed the restaurant and tallier into a research facility dedicated to the compiling of all the culinary recipes form around the world  from past till present. This is a huge undertaking and the goal, which was discussed at the lecture I attended back in 2011, was to create an online database called BulliPedia. This wiki is how Ferran hopes to impact future generations of chefs. He stated that we as chefs want to be new and inventive, but how can we do that if we don't have a source to look to and find out if our idea is just a copy or a truly new idea? With BulliPedia the chef will be able to look at the recipe database and be able to create new dishes that are not just carbon copies of the original. This only scratches the surface of what the BulliPedia is destined to do. Please check out the below video as it is extremely informative. This was the video Ferran showed at the lecture and every time I watch it I get chills just thinking about how amazing this tool will be. If you thought Modernist Cuisine was an important installment to the culinary world...well just wait until BulliPedia is up and running. The food industry will be rocked!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Paco Jet

        No this is not some kind of Spanish Airline....It's a brilliant piece of technology utilized in kitchens across the country for what is now known as pacotizing. The Paco Jet is a pureeing tool that specializes in grinding down frozen materials.

    The Paco Jet needs a fair bit a preparation time before it can be utilized for optimal results. First thing you need to do is fill the ingredients into the stainless steel beaker and immerse them in liquid and freeze the beaker to between -4 and -8 degrees fahrenheit. Once the ingredients in the beaker are down to proper temperature you can insert the beaker into the black guard and slide it into the machine and lock it into place. Once the machine is turned on the systems high-speed blade begins spinning at around 2,000 rpm as it begins pacotizing the frozen ingredients. As the machine grinds away at the frozen mass it is blowing 25 psi jets of pressurized air at the food. The jets of air supplement the shearing forces of the blade and act as a double-grinding process. This double-grinding process enables the Paco Jet to grind frozen material down to two microns across in size. The Paco Jet can make frozen powders, gelato, ice cream and sorbets. If the freezing point of the ingredients being pacotized are not depressed by the addition of soluble solids or liquids than a dry-frozen powder will result. The powders can be simply utilized for plating or can be added as a seasoning when cooking. If the freezing point of the ingredients being pacotized are depressed using soluble solids or liquids than a smooth sorbet, ice cream, or gelato will form. The ice cream, sorbet, and gelato are more dense and smooth than their traditional forms. This is because the Paco Jet does not add air into the fat of the product so it's final volume is much less than a traditional churned product. The incredible smoothness of the final product is a result of the dual-grinding process that takes large ice crystals and makes them into microscopic ice crystals, which have a smoother mouth feel when consumed. A traditional churned frozen treat takes a liquid mixture and freezes it gradually which creates larger ice crystals, thus a more grainy texture results.

                                                        (Smooth consistency achieved through packetizing)
(Artful presentation created at Meredith's restaurant in New Zealand utilizing
a frozen powder and sorbet both made with a Paco Jet)

Paco Jet Safety: Since the machine creates high levels of pressure up too as much as 17 psi inside the grinding chamber you should never introduce any liquid nitrogen or carbonated substance into the chamber. The expanding gases will raise the pressure in the container and can cause a dangerous explosive reaction. During grinding if the psi in the container is getting too high for your preparation Paco Jet has a pressure release button, that allows the user to release small amounts of air pressure from the container.

Friday, January 11, 2013

321 Degrees below 0


     What boils at a temperature of -321 degrees F? Liquid Nitrogen of course. As a result of it's extremely cold properties many chefs are able to do things that were deemed to be impossible or even unimaginable in years past. The integration of liquid nitrogen into the realm of culinary arts has created even more techniques than Escoffier himself could have ever dreamed about. The techniques all start with the prefix Cryo, which denotes the utilization of liquid nitrogen in the technique. The techniques are as follows;

Cryoshucking: mussels and clams that are submerged in liquid nitrogen are easier to open.
Cryocracking: nuts that are submerged in liquid nitrogen are easier to crack.
Cryogrinding: nuts, seeds, and grains that are submerged in liquid nitrogen are easier to mill into flour.
Cryograting: used to freeze a soft item solid so that it can be easily grated
                       (steak, bananas, mushrooms).
Cryopowdering: used to powder vegetables, herbs, or flower petals without turning them into paste.
Cryoshaving: used to get paper thin shavings off a soft item such as prosciutto.
Cryoshattering: used to break apart berries, citrus fruits soft cheeses, or just about anything you desire  
                            to get random size shards of that items or in the case of the berries and citrus  
                            individual compartments.
Cryopoaching: used to form a thin frozen shell on a food item.
Cryosearing: used after a product has been cooked sous vide. The food item's exterior is quickly
                       frozen, so that the internal temperature stays at it's desired doneness while the outside is
                       seared on a hot surface till crispy.
Cryofrying:   used after a product has been cooked sous vide. The food item's exterior is quickly
                       frozen, so that the internal temperature stays at it's desired doneness while the product is
                       submerged in hot oil in order to crisp the outer surface.
Cryoforming: used to make sorbets, ice creams, frozen meringue, or frozen custards. Creates a
                        smoother product, since the ice crystals stay very small as a result of the quick freeze.
Cryoblanching: used to add texture to vegetables as well as retain their color and keep them fresh
(dippin' dots are made through Cryoforming)

    When using liquid nitrogen it is imperative to take extreme caution with all metal surfaces. Any metal surface that has come into contact with the frosty liquid can inflict nasty frostbite within seconds of touching the surface. Take precautions by wearing protective cryogloves or by running warm water over any frosted surfaces, which includes spoons as well. All cryofrozen food items need to be thawed out in a freezer or refrigerator before they are consumed to avoid any frost bite to the mouth or throat of the patron consuming the food item. No liquid nitrogen should be ingested directly as this could cause injury to the individual. Direct contact with an impermeable convex surface will cause the Leidenfrost effect, which means that liquid nitrogen droplets that come in direct contact with human skin will not inflict any damage. 

The Leidenfrost effect is caused by the temperature differential between the liquid nitrogen and the air around it. The liquid nitrogen will bounce along on a layer of gas which protects the surface from actual direct contact with the substance itself. A hand quickly submerged into liquid nitrogen will not be injured thanks to the Leidenfrost effect, don't try that with fryer oil.

Tapioca Maltodextrin


     Tapioca Maltodextrin is a dextrose (plant sugar) polysaccharide. A polysaccharide is a long carbohydrate strand made up of many linked monosaccharides. Tapioca Maltodextrin in particular is derived from the South American native cassava root. Other Maltodextrins can be found in things like corn or wheat, but they do not work quite in the same manner as tapioca. Tapioca Maltodextrin is unique in that unlike other starches, which thicken water based solutions, it thickens fat based solutions. If the Maltodextrin comes into contact with too much water it will become gooey and sticky, which is not what we are trying to achieve as our end product. So what exactly are we looking for as an end result? .....Powder! Yes you heard me correctly, we are looking to turn any substance that is high in fat into a powder. The unique structure of Tapioca Maltodextrin allows it to encapsulate the oil molecules and hold them within a powdered state until they come into contact with water, at which point the starch releases the oil molecules. Some potential items to consider turning into powders are, but are not limited to: peanut butter, chocolate, caramel, yogurt, nutella, olive oil, etc... Tapioca Maltodextrin is a white chalky powder that has a slight sweet flavor. It can be purchased from a multitude of companies such as; Texturas, Willpowder, National Starch, or Molecule-r to name a few. Purchase sizes are usually in large quantities, but some companies do sell it in smaller sizes for at home use. Tapioca Maltodextrin is also fairly cheap on average only $10.00 for an entire pound, which lasts for an eternity if stored in a tightly sealed container. You can also buy it for an on average $6.00 for a 2 ounce pouch.

The formula for Tapioca Maltodextrin is very simple-

(2 parts Tapioca Maltodextrin Starch : 1 part Fat) *by weight

My favorite recipe to utilize Tapioca Maltodextrin in is a deconstructed Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

Deconstructed Peanut Butter Cup:


Tapioca Maltodextrin          50 g
Peanut Butter                      25 g

Tapioca Maltodextrin          50 g
Milk Chocolate  (Melted)     25 g

1.) In a large bowl place the 25 grams of peanut butter and fold in the 50 grams of Tapioca Maltodextrin until a powdery consistency forms.
2.) Pass the chunky powder through a fine mesh tamis, so that a fine peanut butter powder results.
3.) In another large bowl place the 25 grams of melted milk chocolate and fold in the 50 grams of Tapioca Maltodextrin until a powdery consistency forms.
4.) Pass the chunky powder through a fine mesh tamis, so that a fine milk chocolate powder results.
5.) Serve the two powders side by side on a spoon, so that the taster can eat it in one bite and experience the powder dissipating back into a liquid oil in their mouth.
(Milk Chocolate Powder)

Is it done yet?

   How many of us have been either cooking at home or on a hot line in a restaurant and asked the question, is it done yet? I know that I have certainly done this in both aspects and I am certain that many other individuals have as well. Whether it's that steak on the grill or the Thanksgiving showpiece turkey we are all left wondering. Well what if their was a magical panacea that could provide an answer to this age old question? Well that's comes to us straight from our common core classes of math and science. The solution to the question, is it done yet? starts with an equation.

This equation is known simply as the heat equation. The equation was developed in the early 19th century by Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier. It describes how heat travels through solids by conduction.

So now you are probably saying, well how can this equation help answer the aforementioned question and what the hell does any of this equation mean?

The first part of the equation that proceeds the equal sign represents the rate at which temperature is changing with time. The second part of the equation that follows the equal sign (alpha) represents the thermal diffusivity of the food item. Thermal diffusivity is the measure of how fast heat spreads through a particular food item at a particular temperature. The third and last part of the equation represents the temperature gradient in the food. The equation tells us that the steeper the temperature gradient between the inside and the outside of the food, the faster heat will flow to its interior.

Now that we got the science/math aspect down all you need to do is get the three components as listed above and plug the numbers into the equation. If you are a science/math specialist this may be simple to perform, but if you are like 99.9% of the world you can just search the internet for an accurate source that gives the figures for the food item you desire to cook. So the next time before you find yourself asking, is it done yet? do your homework and equate out the amount of time needed to cook your food item.

Trials and Tribulations with Spherification

      Spherification is by far my favorite technique to play around with when it comes to new age culinary techniques. The possibilities are endless...considering the various types of spheres that can be made and the multitude of ingredients that can be incorporated into a sphere. For more on variations and spherification technique check out my Prezi on the right hand column of the blog.

     The sphere and more specifically the spherification technique is what made me fall head over heels for what at the time I knew as "Molecular Gastronomy". I remember being a freshman in college at Johnson & Wales University and thumbing through the internet in search of new recipe ideas, when I stumbled upon now famous chef Ferran Adria and his whimsical and daring, yet thought provoking food. I remember telling everyone I knew about this new style of cuisine and remember getting the same response every time..... that is craziness and why are people using these chemicals and ridiculous scientific machines in the kitchen. They would say that "molecular gastronomy" was ruining the simplicity and passion behind cooking. I beg to differ and always have! In fact I believe that Heston Blumenthal said it best " There are people who determinedly resist the use in the kitchen of things like liquid nitrogen and evaporators, seeing them as somehow inappropriate and "not cooking". Yet many of the technologies and tools we rely on every day in the kitchen - our fridges, freezers, and food processors, and even our non-stick pans and super-sharp carbon steel knives-are products of equally complex science. Where do you draw the line? The logical end result of this kind of purist thinking would have us all cooking with sharpened sticks over an open fire." In order to understand cooking we need to understand the science involved in cooking. Once a chef can harness the understanding of food chemistry and physics the possibilities open up ten fold. Trend setters such as Ferran Adria of El bulli and Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck, incorporated the food science aspect brought forth by scientists (Nicholas Kurti, Herve This, and Harold McGee). It would take another 20 years or so for the public to truly accept this style of cuisine and begin to incorporate it into their own lives.

   About 5 years prior to the Modernist movement I tried to make my first spheres. I purchased what I could from whatever websites or purveyors were selling at the time. This included medical grade syringes and tubing, industrial size bags of hydrocolloids, and gram scales. Since this cuisine had yet to take root all of the equipment and ingredients were very hard to acquire for home use, not to mention they cost me an arm and a leg. Once I got all of my supplies I decided to try making my fist sphere, which was pomegranate caviar. My first attempt was abysmal at best resulting in spheres that dissipated upon contact with their calcium chloride setting bath. My second attempt was not much better since I did not understand at the time that the sodium alginate needed to be sheered into the pomegranate juice in order to properly hydrate the hydrocolloid and disperse it effectively. Needless to say the liquid gelled up inside my syringe and came out as a rather chunky mess. After these two catastrophes I became discouraged and left my idea to stew for a while. My third attempt came a few years later, this time I was armed with more knowledge, so I took all of my previous mistakes into account and everything worked out good so far, until soon as the sphere formed in the setting bath they burst and dissipated away. I was baffled by this and at my breaking point and about to call the pomegranate caviar quits. Upon thinking about the science of what was occurring it hit me! The pomegranate juice is very acidic and needs a buffer in order to allow the sphere to form effectively. Now I thought for sure I would get the spheres to works, so I added a scaled percentage of baking soda into the pomegranate juice to make the pH more neutral. This time my spheres worked perfectly. I rinsed them off in fresh water and took a sample to try. My mouth filled with a vile combination of salt and baking soda, both coming from the additives to the juice. I did not want to quit, so I tried a new hydrocolloid, calcium lactate. I also utilized the reverse spherification method and eliminated the foul tasting baking soda. The spheres burst open like mini water balloons filled with fresh pomegranate juice, success never tasted so sweet. This time I produced what I was looking for, but sometimes in cooking and in science it takes many trials and error before one can nail down what they are looking for as an end product.

   Looking back at my first experience with spherification I learned that research pays off and that sometimes it may be beneficial to start off walking with a more basic idea rather than running into a complex one. Now a days you can buy all the ingredients and equipment with easy to follow step by step instructional videos on website such as These kits allow users to become more comfortable with the technique and take all the guess work out of the equation.